OFFSEASON Review – Aquatic Demons, Sinister Townies, and an Island to Remove From Travel Itineraries
Savannah Chess says Off Season is the journey of a grieving daughter facing the demons of her late-mothers past in this atmospheric horror film.
As eerie as the empty streets and bleak weather of a beach town during its off-season, writer and director Mickey Keating successfully depicts the horrors of this secluded island with a dark past in Offseason. The Shudder exclusive stars Jocelin Donahue, Joe Swanberg, and Melora Walters in a Lovecraftian horror story with somewhat rocky dialogue. However, the chilling cinematography and hair-raising performances are redeeming enough to create solid scares.
The film follows Marie Aldrich (Donahue), a woman who receives a note informing her that the grave of her recently deceased mother, Ava (Walters), has been desecrated on the island where she was buried. Having been made aware of the urgency of the situation, Marie and her friend George Darrow (Swanberg) begin their journey to a coastal town. In Ava’s last lucid hours, she explicitly states that no part of her was to go back to that island, not her body, not her bones, and not her ashes, later mentioning a story of an island curse that Marie dismissed as insane.
As Marie wanders the island in search of a definitive answer as to why her mother was buried there and who vandalized her grave, a handful of strange encounters with the residents make her question the possibility of that very curse. Not to mention, as summer comes to a close, Marie is racing the clock before the bridge closes for the season and she’s stuck in this storm-battered, strange town until spring.
Much of the enjoyment of this film comes from the atmospheric horror that it possesses. Director of Photography Mac Fisken fantastically captures this mysterious, stormy town, using creative angles, its eerie surroundings, and even a vignette effect in some shots, giving the impression that someone is watching Marie when she thinks nobody is around. The ice-cold hues and desolate setting give the uneasy feeling desired in horror thrillers such as this one, and even better when it’s one you can’t escape. However, an excessive amount of fog was a definite visual weakness, as the characters seemed to be swimming through it. Nonetheless, it made for an ominous environment and an effective scare here and there.
Donahue brilliantly portrays the grieving and confused daughter of late movie star Ava, saving what was just another predictable island mystery and turning it into a fear-inducing experience. While Walters delivers a fantastic portrayal of the sick and seemingly demented mother in Marie’s flashbacks, opening the film with a chilling monologue, and a blood-curdling scream. It leaves the audience startled, with a disturbing sense of unease that fully invests us in what's to come. Richard Brake's appearance as the Bridge Man is so captivating it holds your attention when the story begins to wane. As the wanna-be-townie and culty creep, Brake establishes his scene as one of the most frightening in the film.
The unsettling visuals, glassy-eyed townies, and remarkable performances were not enough to prevent questions about a few of Keating’s plot developments. To begin, a vandalized grave seems hardly a pressing enough matter for Marie to make a two-day journey to the island when it could have been easily dealt with over the phone. Everything about the scenario, from a trivial case of vandalism, to the fact her mother shouldn’t have been buried there, and the knowledge of the island being closed off in a matter of days would have been enough to alarm the vast majority of people. Still, she blindly packs her things and heads into the trap. We are also never truly made aware of who George is or his relationship with Marie, he seems to possess no purpose. The film had a straightforward plot with little to no ambiguity, but a little more character development for George and the ominous force that inhabits the island could’ve added more depth to the story.
The performances and the soothingly eerie town make for a tense thriller with plenty of spine-tingling scares. Offseason is a slow-burning and theatrically impressive film that instills a fear of cursed tourist towns with frightening traditions.
Offseason is now streaming exclusively on Shudder.